Come with me. We are going to take a trip into the past. We will stay just a short time. Then we’ll bounce back to the here and now.
The year is 1955. More or less. It could be 1940, 1948, 1959…you pick.
We are in just about any small town in America. It doesn’t have to be Norwich and it doesn’t have to be in Chenango County. It can be where I grew up in Illinois. Or where you grew up in Massachusetts, or New Jersey, or even on Long Island. But it’s a small town with a small town movie theater.
If you were like me and millions of other kids, you saved your allowance, or you babysat, or you mowed lawns, and come the weekend, you hopped on your bicycle and rode to the local movie theater.
We all remember, and if we’re too young to remember, we have seen images of those old theaters in the movies ourselves. Alfred Hitchcock featured them in chases with villains running from the police. Steve McQueen’s “The Blob” was a favorite, because the blob actually invaded such a theater and threatened to smother and EAT all the people inside. The scene of hysterical teenagers running for their lives was a classic.
Countless movie sweethearts fell in love in such small movie theaters. And countless moviemakers fell in love with film by doing exactly what I did. Riding my bike, staring at a screen, and becoming enthralled.
The marque was huge, brightly lighted with hundreds of bulb surrounding backlighted white glass on which, in big black letters, were the titles of the movies being played: WAR OF THE WORLDS … THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL … HIGH NOON. The box office was small. The lobby was carpeted. A smell of popcorn permeated the air. And the ushers were usually high school kids, white gloved and carrying flashlights as they showed you to your seat. And the younger the moviegoer, the closer he liked to sit to the screen.
The most wonderful thing about those old movie theaters, though, was the intimacy. In a sense, it was a funnel. You arrived, you bought your ticket, and you were embraced by the walls, the posters announcing next week’s attractions, the velvet robe leading to the ticket taker, the small lobby with double doors on either side of the candy counter, and then, the pièce de ré·sis·tance, the actual theater itself. The usher led you down the aisle to velvet covered seats that flopped up to let you in, and then flopped down as you burrowed in your seat. Then, the lights dimmed, music began to play, and…magic.
Okay. Back to the present.
Movies today can be wonderful, too, and I expect that youngsters have thrilled to “Jurassic World” almost as much as my father’s generation did to the original “King Kong.” But for them, the movie experience doesn’t begin until long after they arrive at the theater.
First, Mom or Dad has to arrange a play date and transportation. If a suitable friend can’t be found, nobody is going anywhere unless a parent is available. Schedules are checked on the Internet, the car is gassed up, and those who have the itch to see a first run movie in a real movie theater must arrive by car. Once there, they have to find a parking space in a huge, impersonal, vast-as-the-Sahara parking lot.
And the “there” is a barren box of a building with no razzle dazzle. Yes. The movie can be good, after enduring endless messages from movie management on the screen about concessions in the lobby, advertisements, cell phones, this and that.
It can be a long, long, long wait for the magic.
But not everywhere. Not always, and not in Norwich.
What’s that I hear? Applause? Loud Hoots of celebration. A resounding, foot stomping, double-fisted “Yes!”
We have, here in Chenango County, only one movie theater, and it is as perfect as any to which we could time travel in the past. It is located on Broad Street in downtown Norwich, within easy bicycle ride from any house in town, and an easy drive in car, pickup truck, or minivan for anyone anywhere with a sense of adventure and an imagination. The parking is a cinch. Pull up to the curb. Turn off your ignition. You’re there. The theater has a spectacular marquee, with bright bulbs spelling out COLONIA, a multitude of lights surrounding the bold black letters announcing the movies being played, and best of all, it even has light bulbs brightening the sidewalk under the marquee.
Enter through the lobby doors.
Burgundy carpets and caramel walls embrace you. Art Deco fixtures. Walls painted with images of Mickey Mouse and Tinker bell. A friendly sculpture of Sylvester the Cat. And dead center in the lobby, set like a gem in a tiara, the Colonia’s original film projector from the Golden Age of Hollywood and days gone by.
The popcorn sold in the concession stand is the best that money can buy. White and fluffy, and smelling of…movies.
The ticket takers are high school kids, or the theater owners themselves, or one of the owners’ children. And looming in the background, an elegant gentleman who has worked as projectionist at the Colonia for over fifty years and is ready to answer any questions.
What’s most marvelous about this wonderful movie theater isn’t that it celebrates and evokes the past. But that it’s about now. The movies it shows are first run and first rate. Do you want to see “Kung Fu Panda 3” or “The Revenant” or “Norm of the North?” Don’t go to Binghamton or Johnson City or Endicott or Oneonta. Go to the Colonia.
Want to take grandma or your brother or you parents or your kids to a movie? Go to the Colonia.
Want to take your entire Boy Scout Troop? Your Book Club? Your Graduating Class?
Yep. The Colonia.
Best of all, though – Date night! There is nowhere in the world better to be sitting in the dark, staring up at a screen, escaping from too much reality, and, of course, holding hands.
Come with me... Better yet; Go without me. You will have a wonderful, wonderful time.
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2016